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The Joys (not!) of Shopping With Children

7 Tips for Shopping with Children

As a parent who needs to take a child on a shopping trip, you face extra challenges than someone shopping alone. I’ll admit to buying a toy from the $1 section on more than one occasion (blush, blush) to entertain my daughters throughout a shopping trip…

  1. Be Prepared. Know what you are going to buy when you go shopping, have a list. It is very easy to get side-tracked or distracted when you have children in tow. Know how much your child(ren) can actually handle. Some children are calm and sit quietly while shopping. Many others don’t and have a definite time limit of how long they are willing to help you shop.

  2. Timing. Ideally, the best time to shop is when you are feeling energetic, happy and are by yourself. However, reality hits and you have to get to the store this afternoon during a 20 minute window if you are going to have anything to eat for dinner. Oh, and you are going to have to take all of your children and get them into and out of the store within those 20 minutes. If at all possible, shop when your child is not tired or hungry. You will have more success.

  3. Be Willing to Leave. Yes, sometimes, if your child is having a meltdown, you just need to leave. It is not fun to be the parent who is herding a crying, screaming child out the door to the car, and it stinks to be going home empty handed. It is, however, worth the life lesson and the future peace if you do not tolerate meltdowns and tantrums.

  4. Bring a Goodie Bag

  • Pick items that won’t get lost easily (i.e., avoid Polly pockets or small Lego parts)

  • Dress up items (glasses, hats) can make walking down aisles in a grocery store a whole new experience. Have your child pretend to be a cowboy and point out items such as horses or cows that cowboys might be interested in along the way. What does a princess eat to grow strong, be smart and stay healthy?

  • Bring a noisy toy. Some parents aren’t sure about this. When my daughters were little, I would bring a little ‘giggle stick.’ It’s a 1-2 inch stick that you shake and it makes noise. I’ve also had rain sticks and little squeaky toys (note: I don’t recommend the little squeaky toys). Some days I would let my daughters shake as desired, other times, I would ask them to shake along to a song on the store radio or a song we would sing.

  • For slightly older children, bring a calculator. Have them add up each item you are putting in your cart and see how close their total is to the store cashier’s total or subtotal (you might want to explain about taxes).   Even young children (3-5) like pushing the buttons on the calculator to help out.

  • Play detective…have your child hunt for and count all of the blue items in one section or aisle. You can focus on items or on people – how many kids are shopping at this time? How many are in carts, walking, crying? Older children can write their answers down on a pad of paper.

  • Snacks! Most people buy more things at the grocery store if they are hungry…most children get fussy or cry more when they are hungry. Bring a few snacks in a baggie or container for your child (or you!) to munch on along the way.

  1. Runaways. If you have a child that likes to wander or is at the age when he wants to run and hide from you, try not to take them shopping! I have seen the fear in a mother’s eyes as she searched for her child who was eventually found hiding under a display. If you must bring your child, and she won’t sit in the cart or is too big, have her hold onto something (the cart, a furry boa that you bring from home, your belt). Make sure “she can see you” at all times. It’s a great lesson to teach a child to know where you are (“be able to see you”) and is more effective than telling her to stay where you can see her. Have a plan in case you get separated. Let your child know who he/she can talk to (a store employee – point out what their uniform looks like; a police officer; a grandmother) and how to call for you (he should know your first and last name!) if he/she is lost.

  2. Provide a list for your child. If she is too young to read, you can draw or cut out pictures from a magazine (or from the computer) for her to follow while you shop. Have your child check off items on the list as you shop.   If she asks for something extra, it’s easy to reply “If it isn’t on the list, we can’t buy it on this trip.” Quick parent tip: You (the parent) really need to stick to the list if you want this to work…if you are constantly buying extra things, you aren’t modeling this concept well. As an insider’s tip, put 5-6 parent stars on the list, or question marks. That way, if there is something you forgot to put on the list, you can still buy it in place of one of the stars or question marks.

  3. Watch the Clock. Talk about time and see how long it takes to go down each aisle or how long it takes to find an item that’s in the middle of the store (to keep child’s interest a little longer). You can tell your child you anticipate the shopping trip taking X minutes (always add 10-15!) and see how close you are to checking out on time. Imagine her surprise when you end “early”! Watching the clock also means know your child. If your child can handle a 15-20 minute shopping trip, try to stick to that to avoid meltdowns.

While it would be ideal to be able to go shopping on your own, or better yet, to have someone else go shopping for you… sometimes you just have to bring your children along. Using the tips above will help make it easier on everyone involved!


Please Go To Sleep!

While the ultimate goal is to teach your child to self-soothe and to fall asleep easily on his own, getting there can be accomplished in many different ways. It’s important that you find a strategy that works for you (the parent) and then practice it.

My neighbor swears by the “Ferberizing” or the “Cry-it Out” method (Richard Ferber). It worked wonders for my neighbor, she loved it. I did not have the nerves of steel needed to let my daughters cry it out. The one time we tried it, every cell in my body was jumping up and down and screaming for me to go pick her up. For more than an hour.

The strategy that worked best for me was a special bedtime ritual (book, then lullabies and cuddling) and a sweet good night wish. Most of the time that worked just fine. However on a rough night, I would offer to sit in the room with my daughter after I tucked her in as she fell asleep (even as an infant when I wasn’t sure she totally understood what I was telling and offering her). One daughter liked to have me next to her -I did not need to cuddle after she was tucked in, but she wanted me nearby, leaning against her crib at first, then sitting on the end of her bed. My other daughter was fine if I sat across the room and read a book with my itty bitty flash lite (bonus!). It was just comforting for her to know I was there. On busy nights, I didn’t sit long, but would offer to check back in after a specified number of minutes ( sometimes 5 or 10 or 18 – the number was less important than the knowledge that I was coming back and not leaving her alone).

As my children got older, we used special night lights and sometimes special music to help them fall asleep. The music selections changed as they grew, but it was always calm and quiet. White noise, such as a fan, has also helped to calm children down or hide other noises in the house at bedtime.

Whatever method you choose. Give it a solid two to three weeks before you give up (unless every cell in your body is jumping up and down and screaming!). I love that even now, with my pre-teens, every once in a while I hear “Mommy, will you sit in my room for a little bit while I fall asleep?” I get to watch one of the loves of my life as she quietly rests in bed and occasionally I even get to read a few pages of a good book.


Ferber, Richard. (2006) Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition Paperback. Touchstone

Pantley, Elizabeth. (2002) The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. McGraw-Hill Education.

Weissbluth, Marc. (1999) Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballantine Books.


Loads of Laundry

I know you might not believe me if I told you that my girls started doing their laundry when they were 3 ½ and 5 ½ years old. And now that they are pre-teens, they are, in fact, doing their laundry on their own!

Think about how much free time you would have if you didn’t have to do so much laundry. If you have an infant, laundry, lots of laundry, is a fact of life. But your child will grow out of that stage and you will have a jump start because you read this in advance.

So, what have you got to lose? A sock? The possibility of a shrunken shirt? Or what if it’s a total flop and you end up going back to doing all of the laundry by yourself?

If you choose to start with the laundry, begin by teaching and modeling. This might take multiple loads, even a few weeks. Most young kids love to sort clothes and put them into the machine. They also like to measure and pour detergent into the machine and press the buttons or pull the knobs. It’s a bonus if you have a see-through door so your child can watch the water come in and the clothes spin.

Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Draw a line with a permanent marker on the measuring cup to the “fill” line you want.

  • Put detergent in a smaller container if necessary to make it easier to pour.

  • Put arrows where your child should press buttons or pull knobs to start the machine. Sticky notes or flags work well.

  • Sorting clothes offers a great chance to teach/review colors.

  • Teach your child how to ‘inside out’ any shirts with designs (prints) on the front.

  • Teach your child to check the pockets. I often let my children keep any coins they find (bonus!).

  • Let your child play basketball to put the clothes into the machine. This works for both the washer and the dryer.

  • The older your children are, the more you can let them do (under your supervision) without your help. You will still need to be very involved while your children are younger, but I promise you it’s worth it in the long run.

I often still help my daughters when it comes to determining which clothes go in the dryer and which clothes need to be hung up to dry. They are old enough to read the labels, but it is quicker (and there are fewer complaints) if mom helps. Sometimes I’ll even help them hang the up those ‘line dry’ clothes (great time to connect!).

When my girls were younger, when the clothes came out of the dryer, they would help by sorting clothes into each family member’s pile and help by finding clothes I was looking to fold, such as ‘Mommy’s shirts’. They could also match socks and learned to roll them together earlier than I expected.

For the most part, my girls are pretty good at doing their laundry from start to finish. We have had a few bumps here and there along the way. I have heard more than once that “no one else has to do her own laundry” and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. I’ve also witnessed some ingenuity and creativity. My younger daughter is ahead of her time. She used her allowance to buy more underwear so she wouldn’t have to do laundry as often – a trick most people don’t learn until they get to college…

So, was it worth teaching my girls how to do their laundry at such an early age? For my family, I have to answer “You bet!”

Pick a life skill, any life skill: mopping floors, making a meal, washing the windows, or weeding the garden just to name a few.   I’m challenging you to teach, supervise, and then to trust and let go.  Under your gentle guidance, your children can learn to do all of this and more.


Putting the Fun back in DysFUNctional

When was the last time you played as a family? Or just “hung out” together? Sometimes you need to call a Time Out of your hectic schedule, ignore your To-Do List and just take time to play. The laundry and the dirt in the corner of the bathroom can wait until tomorrow. When you take a break from the rat race, you give your family time to get to know and enjoy each other.

While time away can be a vacation or a pre-made adventure (amusement park, mini-golf, roller skating), it can also be simple and cheap. Here are the top 5 favorite Family Fun Escapes contributed by some of the families with whom I have worked:

  • Have a Picnic in the Den. Instead of sitting at the dinner table, lay a table cloth on the floor and eat picnic foods. You can play music that reminds you of summer and have popsicles or ice cream in cones for dessert!

  • Go on a Night Walk. One night, when no one has a super busy schedule the next day, surprise your kids after PJs and teeth brushing and go outside for a walk. Listen to the night sounds, look at the night stars or the snow if it’s falling. What does the night smell like? Is it the same as during the day or does it smell more clear and fresh?

  • Go on a Hike. Explore your local parks and paths. Bring plenty of water, a few snacks, and most importantly a camera to save your family memories!

  • Have a Family Game Night. Depending on how much time you have, each family member can choose a game to play or you can write down everyone’s ideas and pick one out of a hat. Serve a special snack (popcorn or fruit kabobs).

  • Have Ice Cream for Breakfast! You might have heard me mention this as a special surprise to get kids out the door on time or as a reward for getting all of their “To Do’s” done, however, if you haven’t done this in a while (or ever), serve ice cream for breakfast for a fun morning. You can balance it out with fruit toppings, or go all out and enjoy chocolate syrup and sprinkles. It’s such a fun way to start the day off with smiles and giggles, give it a try!

These are just a few ideas you can use to get to know your children better and to experience how much JOY and FUN you can have playing together. Can you think of more?